Friday, March 07, 2003

Mourning is Mourning, Wherever You Live

I may live in Israel now, but I will always be a Rhode Islander, and I happened to be visiting my parents in Rhode Island when the terrible fire occured at The Station in West Warwick last month, killing nearly 100 people. I've observed similarities between my home state and my adopted country in the past: Rhode Island and Israel are small, close-knit, gossipy and political places. I was struck by the similarity between the mood in Rhode Island after this tragedy and the mood in Israel after a terror attack.

The source of the disaster may be very different, but the emotional impact on a community is the same in a place where everybody knows everybody else. I really liked this piece in the Washington Post. I grew up on the proverbial "other side of the tracks" than the people in this article, but it still deeply reminded me of my other homeland.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Despite the government telling everybody to batten down the hatches, the war may be coming as early as next week, everyone is pretty much going about their business. There's no panic in the air. Ask them why, and a lot of people will refer to the boy who cried wolf. We've been told to expect war in the near future for months now, it hasn't happened yet, and people have just reached the point where they are simply sick and tired of worrying, and they simply refuse to get whipped into a frenzy.

I was giving a friend a ride home today, and he recalled that as an undergraduate psychology major, he read about a study in which mice were continually given random electric shocks. At first, the mice were stressed and tense, worrying about when the next shock will come next and what they could do to avoid it. But as time went on, they became relaxed and pretty apathetic. They realized that no matter what they did, they were going to get shocked, so why bother getting upset about it. He said that this seemed to him to be a good metaphor for the state of mind anyone who lives in our region right now. I think so, too.
So What do People Over There In Israel Think About This War?

When I was recently in the United States, everyone wanted to know what the average Israeli thinks about a whole range of topics. Since there is no such thing as an "average Israeli, " this article in Ha'aretz would be a good starting point for my answer today. The article reports on what sounds like a fairly thorough and accurate poll of what Israelis are thinking about world events right now. The statistics pretty much reflect my anecdotal observations as well.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

As if Iraq Wasn't Enough to Cope With....

Today was a perfect example of what I described in my previous post -- how paying attention to the news can spoil an otherwise tranquil day. Unlike my cold and slushy native New England, it was beautiful and sunny here today -- I had a business meeting overlooking the beach in Herzilia this morning that put me in a wonderful mood. I was determined not to stress out over this mornings news reports saying that the Iraq war could begin as early as next week.

Then, boom. Literally.

When it's something like a bus bombing, you can't even bother to try to escape the news when you are in Israel, unless you lock yourself in a closet. The television was on in the lobby of the place where I took my son for speech therapy after school. I asked them to turn it off - the room was full of little kids, after all. The other parents agreed, but looked at me like I was this crazy American. "Won't they see it on TV at home?" one woman asked. "Not in my house," I said, and she rolled her eyes.

Most Israelis believe in letting their kids in on the brutal realities of life here from an extremely young age. I guess in this way, I'll never really be Israeli.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Living Life on Hold

Even after ten years in Israel, it still blows my mind that the world revolves around the Jewish calendar in these parts. I'm watching the evening news, and the incredibly serious Mideast analyst intones, "The Turkish decision as to whether or not to allow U.S. troops to launch an attack from their territory means the difference between a Purim war or a Passover war." It conjures up such vivid images in my mind: are my kids going to be huddled in a bomb shelter in their pirate and princess costumes, or might we conduct our seder in our sealed room? And if so, how exactly will we hide the afikomen?

There are a lot of calming noises coming from the government. They repeat like a mantra the fact that they believe that Iraq has far less capability than they did in 1991 -- at least conventional capability -- and we have a lot better defensive weapons than we did in 1991. It is a vast contrast between what I saw when I visited the U.S. in February. The dynamic was completely the opposite in America -- the government was trying to get everyone mentally prepared for a terror attack, and it almost seemed, super panicked -- and most people I knew were just refusing to buy into it. Here in Israel, everyone seems ready to break out the masks and dive into shelters at any second, and the government and the army are telling them to chill out.

Existential worries aside, what is driving many of us nuts over here on a personal level is the inability to plan your life. You are afraid to plan a birthday party too far ahead of time because there might be a war, you can't plan a trip abroad and leave the kids with your in-laws because there might be a war and you could get stuck overseas.

So you obsessively check CNN and Fox News, compare them to the reports in the Israeli media, and surf the Internet hourly, trying to get a handle on what exactly is going to happen when so you can plan something more than 48 hours ahead of time.

Yeah, yeah, I know this seems trivial and bourgeois in comparison to the huge problems caused by the prospect of war, like the economy and investment climate and worse, the indefinite postponement of really confronting the burning Israel-Palestinian conflict in a meaningful way. But trust me, it's not easy: it raises the overall irritability level tremendously.

The calmest people I know are my friends who plant their heads deliberately in the sand and refuse to read a paper or listen to the radio. All they want to talk about is whether they are going to see "Chicago" or "The Hours" first and what costume their kid wants to wear for Purim. I rather envy them. It's not easy being a news junkie.

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

My friend Helen Schary Motro writes brilliant insightful columns regarding the state of the Israeli psyche. She's published regularly in both major metropolitan newspapers and the Jewish press. Here are her latest insights on the great inner debate among those in greater Tel Aviv as to whether to stick out the war at home or head for safer locations. Helen and I are definitely on the same wavelength. We both broke down and ordered the "Noah's Ark" air filtration system for our shelter at the same time. It was a big expenditure that I hope is a total waste of money: the air inside your sealed bomb shelter is completely filtered so that the people inside don't have to wear gas masks. The idea of wrestling my 4 and 6 year old into their gas masks was too daunting to contemplate. The systems are manufactured by this interesting group of Dutch Christians who view protecting the Jewish people as their mission, bless their hearts. They don't make a profit on the systems...can you imagine how much money they could be making marketing them in New York and Washington right now? The guy who installed ours was very sweet with a good sense of humor. His last words before leaving the house: "I hope you don't enjoy our product because I hope you never have to use it."

Here I am...
Here I am, joining the Blogosphere. I've been reading so many Blogs, I had to get in on the fun, even though there is little time between working, parenting, and redecorating my sealed bomb shelter.